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The Shortlist: The 8 Worst Superhero Movies

8. Darkman II: The Return Of Durant (Bradford May, 1995)
A failure on every conceivable level, Darkman II is only exceeded in the cash-in stakes by Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die (1996). So, you ask, why is it that Darkman II makes the list? Well, Sam Raimi did the unthinkable in 1990 and created a brand new superhero – a vigilante with super strength whose appearance became instantly iconic. The film tripled its budget at the box office, so sequels were inevitable. Had they stayed in Raimi’s hands the results may have been exciting, but instead they were handed to TV serial-hack Bradford May, who stripped all ingenuity and brio from the series, and replaced it with a routine, slightly camp, action-led sequel that made not a lick of sense; for one, how did Durant survive the helicopter crash at the end of the first film? It went straight to video and shot dead any chance of a genuine legacy. And yes, it may be 0.01% better than the third, but this one gets the spot for sheer disrespect and stupidity.

7. Steel (Kenneth Johnson, 1997)

Most people will be surprised to find Steel, the travesty that pretty much ended the popularity of superhero movies in the 90s, this low on the list. But that’s for the fact that it contains much unintentional hilarity – mainly from the DC hero himself who is the most tragically inept tin-man since The Wizard Of Oz. One of the taglines to the movie was ‘Heroes Don’t Come Any Bigger.’ Unfortunately they don’t come any more incompetent either, as one scene sees Steel (Shaquille O’Neal) attracting the attention of anything magnetic within a 10 metre radius. Rambling around like a retarded Robocop, O’Neal is the biggest problem – as an actor he’s about as much use as silent cuckoo clock. At least Michael Jordan had the good sense to play an NBA star and not Nick Fury. At least Space Jam (1996) was a good movie. Oh, and it didn’t have Judd Nelson torching his career, depressingly proving that John Bender was a one off, and 80s icons will sell out for a paycheck.

6. The Phantom (Simon Wincer, 1996)

Another entry that gets some leave for campy hilarity, but nonetheless sucks. The Phantom was a costumed crime-fighter who existed in comic strips during the 30s/40s – a typical serial character, his adventurous spirit dates back to the high seas. If this had been made in the 50s we might look back on it as a flawed favourite – a product of its time, if you will. In the 90s however, Wincer should have known better than to stay slavishly close to the source material. Billy Zane rides around on a horse, looking like a giant purple condom, prompting the question: how can any villain take him seriously? Honestly, the whole movie is like a homoerotic fantasy as if channelled through Indiana Jones, but directed by… well, Simon Wincer. As well as directing six episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, he also directed Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), a film which trivializes the Vietnam war with the tale of a US army unit struggling to deliver an elephant. Yep, he’s that kind of idiot. The plot is absurd, the action sequences are laughable and the tagline was ‘SLAM EVIL!’ Enough said.

5. Catwoman (Pitof, 2004)

Much like McG, Pitof is another stupidly-monikered hack who landed a studio gig for the square reason of sod all and in line with all expectations managed to mess it up. Royally. Fresh off of Oscar success Halle Berry dealt a serious blow to her CV with the abysmal Catwoman, a film so stupid that even Michael Bay would have turned it down. Sharon Stone acts as if she’s still in Basic Instinct, Berry seemingly forgets how to act and Benjamin Bratt… well, he never could. Even before Patience (Berry) turns into Catwoman the film has flunked with cringeworthy dialogue, awful CGI and glaring continuity errors. Her revival is embarrassingly shoddy and soon Patience is drinking milk, walking all over the furniture and making a general prat of herself. Pitof continues to misunderstand the concept of a camera in shooting some of the most inept and unbelievable action sequences I’ve ever seen – Patience basically turns into Spider-Man when stopping a bank robbery. Worst of all are the puns… “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” No, but she got my money, and I want it back.

4. Spider-Man Strikes Back (Ron Satlof, 1978)

In a way, this should get some leave for campy hilarity too – and it would get it if it were funny. The most insulting thing is that Spider-Man Strikes Back is actually just two episodes of The Amazing Spider-Man TV series from the 70s stuck together. It’s the laziest cheap shot I can recall and the production values aren’t much better… for one, Spider-Man’s costume looks like it was made out of the cheapest cloth known to man, and what should be tight-fitting spandex actually looks like Halloween getup. Nicholas Hammond plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man with all the charisma of a vacuum and the agility of a giraffe. The film was outdated even when it was made – a year after the spectacle of Star Wars, it’s really not acceptable for pantomime punch-ups to constitute an action sequence. The direction is awful, the acting more wooden than a dining table, and it pays very little attention to mythology – for one, the main villain is the dastardly Mr. White. Ever heard of him? Nope, me neither. A cash-in that smacks of desperation, this may be one of the most boring films ever made, and don’t get me started on the web-slinging.

3. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (Sidney J. Furie, 1987)

Glancing at the production history of this super-flop might actually elicit sympathy. Cannon Films cut the budget from $36 million to $17 million, moved the shoot from New York to Milton Keynes, and cut the running time from 134 to 90 minutes. Despite Furie’s best efforts he couldn’t grasp the material and due to Cannon’s restraints ended up recycling old footage and effects. I mean, to say anything bad would be to kick a film while it’s down, right? Yeah, but then you look at the giant space net Superman uses to save a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and realize that actually this intergalactically stupid movie died in the scripting stages. It’s full of gaping plot holes, terrible performances and embarrassingly camp fight sequences – the first showdown between Superman and the inventively named Nuclear Man is perhaps the most geographically inept sequence I’ve ever seen. Still, can’t be too harsh on it – it was never, ever, ever going to be good, and an early performance from Jim Broadbent playing a French arms dealer is priceless. However, Superman IV did give us one good thing; Morgan Freeman. As part of Reeve’s contract Cannon funded a film of his choice, which turned out to be Street Smart, and got Freeman an Oscar nomination.

2. The Return Of Captain Invincible (Philippe Mora, 1983)

As this list will have no doubt already proven, there is no shortage of bad superhero movies. But very few are as bad as this musical parody from 1983, which is so awful it makes every other film on this list look like Citizen Kane. It does have a bizarre cult following, but I just find it completely cringeworthy in every sense. It attempts to mix comedy, action, drama and a deconstruction of the superhero movie in much the same way that movies like Kick-Ass would do in contemporary cinema. It even predates Hancock with an alcoholic superhero. Unfortunately it does this through song and dance – incredibly laboured numbers that want so much to be zany, clever and funny… but come across as the sight of talented people flame-throwing their careers for the sake of a paycheck. It’s not funny in any sense of the word, none of the ideas are built upon and every aspect of the production just seems to clash. Like viewing a collective lobotomy, the ‘Mr. Midnight’ song has me gouging my eyes out with a rusty spoon.

1. Batman and Robin (Joel Schumacher, 1997)

Oddly, Batman & Robin is the most technically accomplished film on this list. That says more, perhaps, about how brain-meltingly, ear-piercingly, heart-stoppingly godawful this piece of over-sexed, mythology-destroying trash really is. From Bat-nipples to Mr. Freeze (“Ice to see you!”), all the character psychology is traded in for campy costumes, cheap puns and disastrously over-board visuals. About as far away from the distorted, stalkingly creepy, gothic pulp visuals of Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) as you can get, the primary colours of this film are black, blue and green – with odd lashings of pink-filtered lighting. It’s like a circus roadshow and Mr. Freeze (a tragic character in the graphic novels) is the clown; a shallow and cringe-inducing parody of his former self. It doesn’t help that the other two villains are Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman thesping it up like she’s in Showgirls) and Bane, who becomes more of a numbskulled thug than the violent tactician of the comic-book world. Dreadfully uninspired in every department, it’s a depressing shambles, and sadly the last screen incarnation of his classic character that Bob Kane ever saw, as he died in November 1998.

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